Spoilers through Season 9 of 'The Walking Dead' follow.
Sunday night's episode of 'The Walking Dead' was exciting and action-packed, and the best episode in Season 9B.Credit: AMC
The Walking Deadhas gotten off to a strangely slow start in Season 9B. Following an exciting---if tragic---midseason finale, I was expecting things to get crazy fast. After all, the Whisperers had made their big opening move, killing Jesus and harrying the surviving companions.
Instead, the back half of Season 9 has been weirdly flat. Somehow it's felt both rushed and stagnant. That's an odd achievement. But if you think about it, many of the important story beats have been hurried or glossed over. Henry and Lydia's relationship, for instance, seems to have popped out of nowhere and blossomed much too quickly, with Henry falling head over heels for Lydia much too quickly. That's already gotten him in plenty of trouble, and it would have been more believable if their relationship had more time to grow and develop before Alpha came and took Lydia back.
Likewise, Alpha's backstory and the various Whisperer reveals have all felt premature, giving away the mystery much too soon. I still don't understand why we got so much so soon, and feel like audiences have been robbed of some cool surprises. But while that's been rushed, the rest of the story has been plodding along. Filler has always been a problem with this show, and that's on garish display in 9B.
"Chokepoint" was, for the most part, a fantastic episode. It's certainly the first episode of 9B that had me on the edge of my seat. Mostly that's because of Beta (Sons of Anarchy'sRyan Hurst) who is just wonderfully scary and intimidating. The guy is huge, for one thing (at 6'4" he's got an inch on me) and in his trenchcoat and walker skin he's quite the striking figure, whether shambling slowly with his "guardians" or charging through a wall to attack Daryl.
Beta is terrifying.Credit: AMC
That whole fight scene was just phenomenal. I'm not sure if we've ever had a fight scene this good inThe Walking Dead,but this has to be top five at least. Daryl made it out of the brawl without a scratch, but it could have gone very badly for him. He uses his wits to beat the giant in the end (the knives weren't really working) hiding under the floor and then ambushing Beta and pushing him into an elevator shaft. Naturally, Daryl thinks Beta is dead, but we know better. At the end of the episode we see him clamber to his feet, obviously hurt and even more obviously enraged. Uh-oh.
I'm not sure that Connie's idea to ambush the Whisperers in the building was the best idea ever. Surely they could have simply kept moving quickly and reached a more fortified position with allies. Daryl doesn't want to take Lydia back to Hilltop because it would draw the Whisperers there (and there are alotof Whisperers) but I'm struggling to see what the alternative is. Won't Alpha just go to Hilltop anyways, if only to take vengeance? Or hostages? And if they don't go to Hilltop or Alexandria or the Kingdom, they'll have to run . . . farther away? Are we setting up a new subplot with Daryl, Connie, Henry and Lydia all on the run?
Despite all that, the scene itself worked well. They prevent the walkers from moving to higher floors in the building and then pick off the Whisperers one by one. Henry gets hurt, but they make it out mostly intact and Daryl---after witnessing Henry and Lydia's young love---grudgingly agrees to take Lydia with them. Connie plays a big part in that decision as well, telling Daryl that while she may indeed put them and their friends in danger, at least they have friends. Lydia has none.
I'm really digging Daryl and Connie, by the way. Two weeks ago I said I'm rooting for a Daryl/Connie relationship, and I'm still rooting for that now. Daryl needs some love in his life, and I like this adventure as a setup for that. Connie is a great, tough character. Smart, brave and a good shot. Given she's about as chatty as Daryl, they're perfect for one another.
Lauren Ridloff as Connie, Norman Reedus as Daryl DixonCredit: AMC
Meanwhile, in the Kingdom . . . .
The eve of the fair is upon us, and with it comes a new threat: The Highwaymen. This new group has waylaid Jerry and some of the Kingdom's other scouts and sent them back with a letter that's basically a shakedown. Pay up or they won't let anyone pass. Classic banditry. With a little time, they could set up an outpost, maybe a little motte and bailey, call the shakedown taxes and heyvoila!you have government and society.
In any case, Ezekiel is angry and he gathers his warriors and goes to take on this new threat. But Carol has another idea. They wrote a letter demanding payment, not threatening to kill everyone. Not demanding "all your stuff" like Negan. How about, instead of fighting and risking lives, they talk instead.
It doesn't go great at first. The Highwaymen aren't interested in bartering. But Ezekiel and Carol have get the jump on them. The Kingdom fighters sneak in and surround the Highwaymen. So diplomacy happens. Ezekiel offers the Highwaymen a job: Keep the roads safe and they'll have access to the Kingdom and the fair. The bandits aren't interested until Carol puts a cherry on top.
"How long has it been since any of you have seen a movie?" she asks. "Seriously?" the Highwaymen leader asks. It's kind of a great moment, actually, because it really would be those small things that we take for granted---movies, hot showers, toilet paper---that you'd miss in the apocalypse.
So the Highwaymen take the job and get to work right away, showing up just in time to help Tara's group fight off some zombies. Tara and her Hilltopians got stuck when this tree blocked the road:
James Chen as Kal, Eleanor Matsuura as Yumiko, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Anthony Lopez as OscarCredit: AMC
This qualifies as the one Very Stupid Moment of the episode. This is not a very large fallen tree. Tara's people are trying to clear it by way of chopping through it with an axe. Um . . . no, that will take forever and be exhausting. Why not just get all these able-bodied young people together and lift the log up and out of the way? It seriously wouldn't be that difficult. Also they have horses who could be used to help pull it if need be.
I just don't understand scenes like this. Why not show them get stuck by the log and just as they're starting to move it, walkers come pouring out of the woods? That's almost what the scene was, but they make this rather piddly log seem like such a huge blockade. It's just silly.
The action wasn't bad, at least. The blacksmith gets pinned by a walker and his wife has to put their new baby in a box and then kill a few of the dead in order to save him. I'm glad the show is giving smaller characters like this more to do. We need to establish characters we actually care about.
In the end, the Hilltop people make it to the Kingdom where Tara is just flabbergasted that Daryl and Henry and Connie haven't shown up. This is also kind of silly. She knows Henry went after Lydia and thathe's in incredible danger. Daryl and Connie are also in a very perilous situation tracking him. It's nice and comforting to think that it all just went great and they're already safe and sound at the Kingdom---but it's neither likely nor realistic to think that way. It's honestly a little weird that Tara and the others even left for the fair before Daryl returned.
Okay, so there are some kind of stupid things going on here and there especially with Tara's subplot, but other than that this was a great episode. I loved that fight scene. Beta is a terrific new bad guy. Daryl is so much better this season it's not even funny. I'm hoping they can start writing Henry better---his naivete is just ridiculous when you consider they've written the far younger Judith as little miss badass---but I have hope. And I like Lydia.
What did you think of tonight's episode? We have three more after this before the season is over. Let me know your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook.
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero